Suns block out Blazers


The Phoenix Suns were looking ahead to the playoffs long before they finished off their 100-91 victory over Portland.

San Antonio's rout of Utah earlier in Wednesday night locked Phoenix (55-27) into the sixth seed in the Western Conference. The Suns will open on the road against the No. — Spurs, their postseason nemesis.

"It's an unbelievable way to start off the playoffs, but that's how it is," Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni said.

Little-used Sean Marks had 16 points and 13 rebounds on a night that the Suns rested most of their regulars. The Suns and Spurs tip off on Saturday afternoon in San Antonio.

The Suns have opened the playoffs at home each of the last three years. But D'Antoni said he wasn't concerned about starting on the road.

"I don't think it really matters that much, other than revenue," D'Antoni said.

As the regular season's final night began, the Suns had hoped to move up in the jumbled playoff race. They had only one shot at opening the playoffs at home: a victory coupled with a Houston loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. That scenario went by the boards when the Rockets blew out the Clippers.

Suddenly, the only out-of-town score that mattered was Utah at San Antonio.

Before the game, D'Antoni said he would monitor the San Antonio game and pull his starters if it became clear that the Suns couldn't move up. The Spurs led Utah by 26 at halftime, and it wasn't long before D'Antoni sent in reserves D.J. Strawberry, followed by Marks, Alando Tucker and Eric Piatkowski.

Marks' 16 points matched a career high and his 13 rebounds set a career high.

Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire and Shaquille O'Neal didn't play after halftime. Stoudemire finished with 12 points in 18 minutes, snapping his streak of consecutive 20-point games at 18 games, the third-longest in franchise history.

The Suns were already thinking about the playoff matchup against the Spurs, who have eliminated Phoenix in three of its last four postseason appearances. Last year's six-game defeat, in the second round, still galls Suns faithful.

The Suns were on their way to a dramatic Game 4 victory in San Antonio when Robert Horry sent Nash flying into the scorer's table. During the ensuing skirmish, Stoudemire and Boris Diaw left the bench, drawing one-game suspensions. Horry, a reserve, was suspended for two games.

The Spurs won Game 5 in Phoenix and closed out the series at home. The Suns were involved in a lesser skirmish against Portland on Wednesday night.

Emotions boiled over late in the first half, when Portland's Jarrett Jack and Phoenix's Brian Skinner squared off at halfcourt. The players were quickly separated, but both were assessed double technical fouls and ejected.

The Suns obviously learned a lesson from last spring, because no one left the bench during the skirmish with the Blazers.

"One good thing, we did have a dry run, almost a fight, and we stayed on the bench," D'Antoni said with a chuckle. "We're older. We had two guys who couldn't get up off their seats."

Jack said he didn't think he should have been ejected because he didn't throw a punch.

"I reacted and retaliated," he said. "What would you do if I hit you in your face right now? I hope you wouldn't just stand there. I wouldn't have done it for no reason. I mean, I just didn't run up to him and push just to do it. It was warranted."

Skinner said he hopes the ejection won't bring a suspension in the playoffs.

"It happened," Skinner said. "It's done. It's over with. We're in the playoffs now, and hopefully it doesn't carry over anything else to penalize the rest of the team."

The Suns didn't need Skinner to finish off the Blazers, who hit only one of their first 10 shots and shot 40 percent from the floor for the game. Travis Outlaw scored 24 points and had 12 rebounds for Portland, which finished 41-41 and missed a chance for its first winning record since 2002-03. "All losses are disappointing," coach Nate McMillan said. "These guys have worked hard all season long. You come in here and you have an opportunity and that's what you want, an opportunity to win the game. But you've got to shoot the ball better."

Notes: Phoenix forward Grant Hill was out with a groin injury. He's expected to be ready for the playoffs. Leandro Barbosa started in Hill's place. ... Portland's last victory in Phoenix came on Feb. 4, 2004. The Trail Blazers have dropped seven straight games in the desert since then and nine overall to Phoenix.

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